What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

As a parent, you’re no stranger to the role of caregiver. You are the ruling physician in your home and are quick to act when a minor medical crisis occurs with your children. It’s natural to value a degree path that is not only convenient to your schedule, but also affordable and easily translatable into your role as mom or dad—after all, your family is your primary concern. And of course, you’re a master multitasker.

You’ve likely been told by many people over the years that you’d make a great doctor, thanks to your tendency to be both highly dedicated and instinctually nurturing. The innate skills may already exist, but that long, expensive road through medical school is intimidating, to say the least.

If this sounds relatable, a job as a medical assistant may be right for you. You’ve probably heard of the job title, but are still wondering, What does a medical assistant do? Well, to put it lightly, a medical assistant is a physician’s right hand man, or woman, as the case may be. Although the duties and responsibilities are mostly uniform, the job description varies based on the setting.

Take a look at four important realms of healthcare in which medical assistants play a vital role to see if this career could be the right path for you.

Role of a medical assistant

Medical assistants are trained in both clinical and administrative work. This multidimensional skill set is unique to medical assistants, and it often sets them apart from other healthcare professionals. Hospitals are relying on the knowledge and abilities of medical assistants more and more each year.

The clinical side of medical assisting translates most directly to recording vital signs when interacting with patients, compiling patients’ medical histories and administering medications under direction of a supervising physician. In the administrative realm, medical assistants can be responsible for everything from scheduling appointments to billing and assisting patients in filling out insurance forms.

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Medical assistant job settings

Nurses are often universally capable of performing a solid repertoire of medical tasks, but as they specialize in different units of a hospital, there are different responsibilities assumed. Similarly, medical assistants are trained to handle anything their chosen profession could throw their way, but their specific duties may vary depending on the setting in which they work.

What does a medical assistant do in a hospital?

A medical assistant working in a hospital often performs the same functions as a nursing assistant. The specific duties assigned to medical assistants working in a hospital, however, are wholly dependent on the specific needs of the unit in which they work.

The balance between administrative and clinical work is still very evident. As a medical assistant in a hospital, one becomes a receptionist, scheduler, the person who handles billing and often assists in filling out patient forms. On the clinical side of things, job responsibilities are both patient-based and laboratory-based.

While direct patient needs such as administering required medication or immunizations are an important part of the job, medical assistants working in hospitals also spend a fair amount of time in the lab examining blood, urine and stool samples taken from patients. For this reason, they must be sufficiently trained in a laboratory setting so that if any abnormal test results appear, physicians can be alerted immediately.

The well-trained medical assistant can also perform electrocardiogram readings, manage patient referrals to specialists and administer prescription refills, says Maria Todd, MHA, PhD and healthcare industry consultant.

What does a medical assistant do in a clinic?

Many think of clinics and hospitals as being synonymous, but there are notable differences. In short, a clinic is a consulting health center started by a practicing physician—this can sometimes even translate into one small consulting room. In a clinic, rather than specializing in a specific unit or wing of a big hospital, your work would be more comprehensive, filling any of the gaps needed to help physicians carry out patient procedures.

In small clinics, medical assistants are often referred to as “generalists” because they do everything from greeting patients and answering telephones to changing wound dressings and removing sutures. They also instruct patients about general care, medicinal procedures and special diets.

This blend of routine administrative and clinical duties helps keep everything running smoothly, something highly valued by the office managers, physicians, nurses or other health practitioners in the clinic. 

What does a medical assistant do in a private practice?

Private practices appear to be hiring more medical assistants as of late, due to both cost and efficiency. Physicians in private practices depend on medical assistants to help them manage the vast complexities of patient care and the overall management of their practices.

A medical assistant’s duties in this sector of healthcare are often personalized uniquely to the needs of the specific practice, but they generally resemble the following: the basic clerical duties of an office receptionist, conveying clinical information to patients on behalf of the physician, and performing basic tests and examinations. All of this allows the physician to see more patients, increasing the success of his or her practice.

Barbara Bergin, MD and board-certified orthopedic surgeon, sees the importance of this multidimensional capability of medical assistants. “If a medical assistant can cross over into a scheduling position, even better,” she says. “In this day and age, replacing two employees with one is becoming more commonplace.”

What does a medical assistant do in ambulatory care?

Working as a medical assistant in ambulatory care is likely the most drastically different of the four settings. The basic duties and responsibilities remain steadfast—providing clerical and clinical support to the medical staff in a particular unit—but there is an extra air of intensity that comes with working in an ambulance.

Completing the necessary patient forms, obtaining and documenting patient specimens or samples, and performing Point of Care testing (POCT) can feel all but routine in the high-pressure atmosphere of ambulatory care. Medical assistants are required to trust their instincts and training and to act quickly so that the EMTs can care for their patients more effectively and efficiently.

It is also up to the medical assistant to be sure the ambulance is well-stocked for patient care so the patients’ experiences can be as positive as possible. But the job, of course, requires much more than the routine duties—the medical assistant is often one of the first people the patient will interact with.

“We often tell our staff to treat patients as they would want a member of their own family treated,” says Bergin. She says that thought goes for both medical assistants and doctors alike.

To sum it up …

So, what does a medical assistant do? A lot! Medical assistants work to make life easier for both physicians and patients. And the good news is that it doesn’t have to stop there if you decide that healthcare is something you really love. Todd says that all dedicated medical assistants can get more training to further their careers and can go on to become things like GI surgical techs.

Now that you know what a medical assistant does in four basic sectors of healthcare, take the step to see if you can translate the skills you’ve acquired as a parent into the skills you’ll need in medical assisting.

Whether your work setting would be a hospital, a clinic, a private practice or ambulatory care, working as a medical assistant could be the perfect way to nurture your career passions and support your family while you’re doing it! Head over to Rasmussen College’s medical assisting program page for everything you need to know to get started!

External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Jess is a freelance writer for Collegis Education who researches and writes content for Rasmussen College. As a trained and published poet, she loves discovering new ways to use her writing as a tool to further the education of others.

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